The seventh and final stage of the online dating process is to bring your online relationship into real life. This section tells you how to succeed…
As you start to get to know a person you’ve met and become more part of each other’s lives, you still need to navigate certain challenges that don’t happen if you initially met face-to-face. Here’s what this involves:
Adjusting your expectations
You may feel that you know an online partner very well because of the emails you’ve exchanged. In fact, you only know them on a surface level. So you may get more surprises (nasty and nice) than you would with a regular date, and a few months down the line, you may find that the person you thought was your soulmate isn’t even a friend. Conversely, if you’ve used your emails and phone conversations wisely, you may well have learned far more about a potential partner than if you had met in a pub or a club, and have a very good foundation for a stable and committed relationship.
Being realistic about the excitement
The excitement of online dating (which comes from instant communication; speed of involvement; distance that creates mystery and uncertainty) may make you more likely to fall in love and in lust very quickly. And then, you may want to action that love and lust far too instantly for anyone’s good. So we advise pacing yourselves, both when it comes to sex and when it comes to commitment; don’t rush into bed – or into church. Instead take things slowly, and take account of the very particular thrill that online dating gives and which may affect your decision-making – for the worse.
Deciding when to come offline
There’s a breakpoint in online dating – whether to continue or stop having contact with others with whom you might have a relationship. People have different expectations, but in general it’s not considered ‘infidelity’ to continue to chat online until you and your potential ‘partner’ openly discuss wanting to focus exclusively on each other. But if after a few actual dates with one person you’re still eagerly chatting online with others, it may be a sign that your attraction to the person you’re dating isn’t actually that strong or that, whatever your intentions, you’re not ready for commitment.)
Exploring whether this is ‘the one’.
As with any relationship, you can’t possibly be certain at the start whether the person you’ve met is completely right for you. With internet dating that lack of certainty may kick in more strongly because you know there are hundreds of other possible partners waiting for you online.
If you’re sure someone isn’t ‘the one’, you need to walk away. But if you feel there is a chance of compatibility, then you should explore that, not only to avoid the ‘shopping’ trap we talked about earlier but also because love grows slowly and you need to give it a chance to develop.
Our solution is this. When you decide that you’re ready to come offline and focus on each other, also decide that you will both commit to exploring your relationship for a minimum period – we suggest two to three months.
During this time (unless there’s abuse or violence) don’t think about splitting up even if you have emotional wobbles. These may simply be the adjustment of transforming an online relationship into a real life one. Instead, concentrate on getting to know each other and getting clear on your expectations of the relationship. Pay particular attention to any differences or difficulties and how they get talked through (or not…).
If at the end of your few months one or both of you feels that it’s not going to work, you’ve given it your best shot, and can part as friends. If you do walk away, then it’s probably best not to log back on again to a dating site immediately – you might be wise to return to Stage 1 – Laying the Foundations, and take your time to feel emotionally ready, good about yourself, and optimistic about the opportunities that online dating offers. Only then start again.
What are the chances?
It goes without saying that there are no guarantees that online dating will mean you find your perfect match. (Perfect matches in relationships are a fantasy.) But, as long as you don’t give up, you will get rapidly better at dating and relating and it is very, very likely that you will find a compatible partner, a relationship that makes you happy, and one in which you can thrive.
Remember… your happiness and wellbeing are worth persisting for.